The Verse’s Tamara Stidwell explores why sales of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen eighty-four have surged recently, and what it means to live in a Post-Truth world, where power trumps reality.
“It’s selling really well!” Remarks the friendly assistant in Brighton and Hove’s biggest independent book shop, CityBooks, “And all round the country too, everyone wants to read 1984 again. It must be to do with Trump.”
This was the response I received when recently buying a copy of George Orwell’s dystopian novel; Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s soaring popularity since Trump’s election has been echoed across the world, with Amazon reporting a sell out in the US, just days after reaching the site’s Bestseller list.
In fact, Penguin; the world’s largest bookseller has reported struggling to meet demands; “We put through a 75,000 copy reprint this week. That is a substantial reprint and larger than our typical reprint for 1984” a spokesman said. And even in Brighton’s small branch in Western Rd, they have reported an unusual increase in sales, designating a popular shelf to this seventy year old text.
So why are Orwell’s nightmarish prophecies about the future suddenly becoming the big talk of the present? Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway kick-started the Orwellian scepticism, when referring to Donald Trump’s press-secretary lies about how many folk turned up to his inauguration (there weren’t very many) as “Alternative-facts”. Here, we can see her divert questions to try to throw any specualtion about truth into a confusing disarray of fact and opinion:
These “Alternative-facts” or lies, as I prefer to call them, are what Donald Trump has notoriously used throughout his campaign to gain candidacy. In Nineteen Eighty-Four political truths are clouded in a form of “newspeak” to confuse and manipulate the public. Here are a few of Donald Trump’s most fabulously fictitious “Alternative-facts”:
- Trump lied about the murder-rate.
“The murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years, right? Did you know that? […] I’d say that in a speech and everybody was surprised, because the press doesn’t tell it like it is. It wasn’t to their advantage to say that.”
Perhaps it was more in Trump’s advantage to say this, to develop the foundation of fear. Oh just so you know, murder-rates have actually declined by 42% in the last two decades, (even with the huge rise in America’s population) according to factual evidence from PolitiFact.
- Trump lied about the Dakota Pipeline.
Trump signed an order allowing the Oil companies’ access to the Dakota Pipeline. To county sheriffs at the roundtable he said, “I don’t even think it was controversial… I haven’t had one call from anybody saying, oh, that was a terrible thing you did.” Hmm, after millions of protestsers worldwide and in Dakota hailing an international outcry against the building of the Pipeline, for the rights of Native Americans, I find this hard to believe.
- Trump lied about Terrorism.
“Terrorism and terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe have “gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported.”
In fact media coverage of terrorism has been unprecedented recently. Why would he want us to disbelieve the way that the media covers this topic? Perhaps to fulfil his own agenda and justify building that big ol’ wall.
- Trump lied about his Inauguration.
“That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period.”
Said his smiling secretary Sean Spicer, behind gritted teeth, gritted teeth that he couldn’t persuade over 1 million women who came down for the Women’s March the next day to have come a day earlier to fill all the empty rows.
According to PolitiFact, 70% of what came out of Trump’s mouth (“statements”) during his campaign were completely false. And what happens when your brain is over-run with hyperbolic exaggerations and twisted truths? According to Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert, you begin to accept them as real, because “even just briefly, we hold the lie as true: We must accept something in order to understand it.”
Thus begins the good ol’ systematic act of brainwashing, or as Adam Curtis put it in his recent BBC documentary; the act of Hypernormalisation. Where terror, torture and state tyranny can be soundly normalised in a world built on layers and layers of false “truths”. In Nineteen eighty-four, the slogans of The Party, “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength,” are perfect examples of this phenomenon.
Doublethink, the acceptance of contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time, as a result of political indoctrination, is the concept behind allowing The Party to commit immoral acts, while accepting that no act they commit could possibly be immoral. Linguistically, Donald Trump uses terms like ‘Free market’ to talk about the lucidity of competitive economy, (to make it seem like all American’s have a chance at being rich!) Actually he uses this concept of ‘Free market’ to give millions in tax breaks to one company. In an ideological sense, Doublethink is seen in how Donald Trump does not deny claims of manipulating truth, but instead attacks the free press for attacking him; whilst ironically using the popular rhetoric that he is the voice “for the people”.
Adam Curtis, the controversial Britsh film-maker reminds us to be critical and question all information. He says a feeling of social unrest in these ‘strange times’ is building, “There is a great feeling of restlessness and hunger for change […] it’s all over the place but no-one has got any vision of what to do. I think it is because people have retreated – possibly into culture – but also into a never never land where everything has been emotionalized, rather than confronting issues of power.”
In comes our little book again. Published in 1949, in the post-war ‘Age of Anxiety’, Orwell confronted issues of power by depicting a chilling view of the manipulation, indoctrination and censorship needed to have complete power of the people. Moreover, this novel, which reminded us all that “Big Brother is watching you” became fashionable in 2013, when Edward Snowden’s WikiLeaks on the National Security Agency surveillance made huge international news.
Deeply rooted in its author’s political morality, it’s themes of political choas under ‘the human condition’ continue to eerily reverberate, and transcend time. As Trump’s congress team quickly rush to hush up any bad blemishes on his already fiercely contemptuous reputation – with the quick handling of dollars, dynasties and dogma, Orwell’s Winston Smith, keeps his head down in the Ministry of Truth to rewrite old newspaper articles so that the historical record always supports state policy.
Yet as Curtis said, we have reached a level of plateaued permanence – a sense that things are f*cked, but we don’t care, or if we do, we don’t know how to stop it. How do we topple this? Do we act as Winston Smith does in launching his own hopeless private rebellion against the oppression of “the Party” and its all-seeing, all-powerful dictator, Big Brother? Is it time for a skinny-jean Russel Brand style Revolution with all the Essex frills?
Before we exacerbate ourselves is drowning in post-truth, hypernormal society, let’s not sink our toast in Brexit eggs and bread-and-butter suffering just yet. Remember poet Shelley’s voice of 1819, in The Masque of Anarchy:
“Rise like Lions after slumber, In unvanquishable number, Shake your chains to earth like dew, Which in sleep had fallen on you – Ye are many – they are few.”